not enough time to write them up cogently. Suffice it to say that I've come
to think the STEM to STEAM movement is more of a slogan than a useful
project. Ken asked what arguments might there be against the STEAM agenda? I
was glad he raised the question because it seems that STEM to STEAM has
become, as Ken puts it, the flavor of the day.
Many of us who are interested in science and art are not a part of the
science-based art cohort or an art-based science cohort. We come to art and
science because we find there are a number of fruitful ways of looking at
and thinking about creativity. As for me, creativity and intergenerational
perspectives are topics of interest on their own terms. Needless to say,
education is a part of intergenerational transfer, so how we educate and
receive our education has a great deal to do with the frame of reference any
one of us brings to the table. Or, as Ken also pointed out, things move and
change. As Julia noted, art is quite pluralistic these days. This, in my
view, reflects intergenerational transfer as well.
Given my orientation, I find that putting together a "whole" package to
describe STEAM is particularly unhelpful because it seems it is more of an
effort to normalize particular approaches. If we fail to conceptualize that
how we use our chosen media or even what media we use doesn't insure
creativity, then what have we accomplished? Many of the threads on STEAM,
in my view, fail to distinguish between bootstrapping and run of the mill
work. People in a number of all fields fall into both categories ― whether
they work across disciplines or have a more tailored focus. So, while Bill
asks if there is a metaphor that puts the STEAM pieces into a cohesive
whole, I prefer to ask how to we conceptualize a world in which each
answered question leads to ten new questions and many elements that we do
not even frame in terms of questions?
A good way of grappling with my point that does not point to a particular
individual is The Powers of Ten video released in 1977, see
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0. Produced by Charles and Ray
Eames, and distributed by IBM, the 9-minute film begins with a close-up shot
of a couple picnicking by a lakeside in Chicago. They are initially viewed
from one meter away and the scene expands out to reveal the edge of the
known universe at that time. Then, at a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per
second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the
sleeping man's hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. So,
and this is my point, the film leaves out all of the advances since 1977.
For example, nanotechnology was, I believe, a product of the 1980s.
In terms of art and science, if one has more than a boilerplate
understanding of history, one can correlate each level we view with an
historical paradigm and the people in various disciplines who contributed to
the discoveries that changed how we see the world. Some, of course, worked
collaboratively. Others made discoveries while involved with personal
projects. I could give names but suffice it to say that thinking about this
in terms of arguments against STEAM, as Jon pointed out, many of the
darlings of art history today were often the wallflowers of their own time.
Many, also had complicated histories.
I will add one example of the vast array number of historical figures whose
interdisciplinary practices are largely ignored to underscore my point. For
example, how many on the list know anything about the wax models of
artist/anatomist Anna Morandi Manzolini (1716-1774)? Trained as a sculptor,
Morandi went on to make renowned objects that were collected throughout
Europe during her lifetime due to the artistry she brought to her studies of
the body. Luigi Galvani, the father of electrophysiology, held Morandi's
art in high regard. For him, her works did not bring to mind the putrid
smells that accompanied dissections. Rather, as Galvani wrote, these
elegant, beautiful models would please viewers so much that they would be
drawn to undertake the study of anatomy. (Full disclosure: I plagiarized
this paragraph from my recent review of Eric Kandel's art and the brain
book, see http://leonardo.info/reviews/dec2016/kandel-ione.php).
In other words, I find it extraordinary that many of the people who
cross-fertilized during their lives are simply left out of the boilerplate
STEAM arguments as if to make the STEAM movement something very special and
STEAM people exceptional. Of course many people who did cross-disciplinary
work are also excluded from the normative histories many disciplines adopt,
even as disciplines change their dominant narrative from one period to
another. Jon used Bach as an example. It was a wonderful contribution
because I didn't know anything about his history. This underscores that we
each have a frame of reference and if the goal is to create a STEAM
paradigm, how does it accommodate these kinds of variations in viewpoint?
Suffice it to say that just as cross-fertilization is not unique to our time
any more than is new media research. People endlessly correct and
re-evaluate assumptions. Within each time period new discoveries re-frame
the conversation. The Science magazine article Roger mentioned (by Elisabeth
Pennisi) is an example of how this works. For those who didn't read it, the
article was about research showing interbreeding or hybridization among
species has challenged the classic definition of reproductive isolation, see
As someone who works outside of the university paradigm, I would like to
also add that one of the disappointing elements of STEAM advocacy is that it
seems to be more of a way to fund a particular brand of art and add a stream
of money to those within universities who are a part of this particular
cohort. Aside from not really grappling with creativity in any convincing
way in terms of the umbrella package, I'm not convinced that the STEAM
product is adding something that isn't already there. When I worked in
science museums and with STEM people at UC Berkeley, in the 1980s I found
the STEM projects were already doing the kinds of things STEAM advocates
claim are missing from STEM education in terms of making, design,
visualization, etc. If the goal of STEAM is to garner funding for a
particular brand of art increasingly evident in university programs, again,
the project seems more about normalizing certain kinds of artmaking within
the mainstream, academic paradigm than fostering creativity.
Well, I could go on, but I've no doubt said enough. I'll leave it here.
Director, The Diatrope Institute
2342 Shattuck Ave., #527
Berkeley, CA 94704
Diatrope.com <http://www.diatrope.com> | AmyIone.com <http://amyione.com>
Art and the Brain: Plasticity, Embodiment, and the Unclosed Circle:
> It occurs to me to ask an interesting questions. Everyone on this list favors
> the STEAM agenda. So do I. But I also recognize that a significant number of
> the projects I see are open to debate. As Roger noted, I would like to see
> greater clarity ― conceptual, metaphorical, epistemological, and
> As a journal editor and as a reviewer for several journals that welcome
> research from people who are on our side of the STEAM argument, I am more
> often disappointed than rewarded. Many people who line up on the creative side
> of STEAM research can't seem to write a proper research article. In many
> cases, I find they can't even manage an article in which they form robust,
> logical argumentation supported by correct citations.
> When this happens, I ask myself a simple, serious question: a text sits still.
> It does not move. While any text is open to interpretation and argument, there
> is some kind of hermeneutic responsibility that the authors of an article have
> with respect to the author, content, and context of the cited text. When I
> find that an author cannot form an accurate citation or a responsible quote,
> summary, or paraphrase of a cited source document, I wonder whether I can
> trust that author to report on phenomena that only he or she has observed.
> Cited sources sit still. Many of the phenomena we report in STEAM research,
> much like the phenomena of social science, move and change. If a researcher
> can't accurately report something that sits still on a printed page, can we
> trust what that researcher says about moving, changing issues?
> Following a post by Ghislaine Boddington, I downloaded the report, A New STEAM
> Age: Challenging the STEM Agenda in Research. There is some interesting
> material in this report. Physicist David Berman writes an interesting article
> titled, "One Culture, Not Two." He opens with a quote by Henri Poincaré, the
> greatest mathematician of the early twentieth century. (Poincaré almost
> developed the ideas that became the Theory of Relativity. He was a far better
> mathematician than Einstein, so he had the skills. As it happened, Einstein
> had the great physical intuition, so Einstein did what Poincaré did not.)
> Berman's opening quote from Poincaré's Science and Method is this:
> "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful ... He studies it
> because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is
> beautiful … What I mean is not that beauty which strikes the senses but that
> intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts."
> This is a lovely quote, and I agree with this. Many scientists make similar
> statements, and they are both serious and correct. But is this an argument for
> STEAM? Or is it, rather, an acknowledgement that there is some kind of deep
> beauty underlying nature? The physicist Richard Feynman said something quite
> "Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas
> atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night and feel them. But do I see
> less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination - stuck on
> this little carousel, my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A
> vast pattern - of which I am part... What is the pattern, or the meaning, or
> the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far
> more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do
> poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of
> Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane
> must be silent?" (quoted in Gleick 1993, p. 373).
> Feynman himself was quite skeptical toward artists. It's interesting to read
> the chapter titled "But Is It Art" in Feynman's (1997) famous book, Surely
> You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.
> Feynman is clearly arguing that the hardcore STEM agenda discloses just as
> much beauty as the STEAM agenda. And he is quite skeptical toward many of the
> claims made by artists for art and its role in society ― or its role in the
> life of the mind. As I read Feynman, he is occasionally skeptical toward the
> claim that artists are creative in any deep way.
> While I see Feynman's point, I argue that many artists are creative. But
> perhaps not the majority ― a great deal of what people learn to do in art
> schools is to follow current trends. In contrast, I am always astonished at
> the deep creativity at play in great science. If you look at the five great
> papers that Albert Einstein (1998) published in 1905, you see a deep, profound
> creativity that does not require art for its greatness. In the 1998 book
> Einstein's Miraculous Year, editor John Stachel describes each of these papers
> in an introduction that makes clear why they are profound, creative, and
> When a group of people like us gather to talk about STEAM, I occasionally feel
> like I'm in church. Many of us are involved with Leonardo, we obviously
> subscribe to the Yasmin list, and we all have something to do with art.
> Everyone supports STEAM.
> But let's think this through with a bit of scientific inquiry. What if STEAM
> is simply the flavor of the day? What if artists like STEAM because it offers
> a new playground? Could one reason to support STEAM simply involve cash?
> (Science is funded by government agencies that have more money for science
> than for art.) As Morgan Freeman's character often said in the movie Thick as
> Thieves, "I'm just saying, is all."
> Perhaps STEAM is only hot air, as the title of Roger's first post suggested.
> What arguments might there be against the STEAM agenda?
> Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal
> of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Tongji University in
> Cooperation with Elsevier | URL:
> Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and
> Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished
> Professor | Centre for Design Innovation | Swinburne University of Technology
> | Melbourne, Australia
> Einstein, Albert. 1998 . Einstein's Miraculous Year. Five Papers that
> Changed the Face of Physics. Edited and introduced by John Stachel. Princeton,
> New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
> Feynman, Richard. 1997. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a
> Curious Character). New York: W. W. Norton.
> Gleick, James. 1993. Genius: Richard P. Feynman and Modern Physics. London:
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